Road danger is biggest barrier to cycling, says research commissioned by DfT

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Six in ten people in England who are able to ride a bicycle are deterred from cycling to work because they believe that “it’s too dangerous for me to cycle on the roads,” and half say that they would cycle, or would do so more often, if there were greater provision of cycle paths, according to research commissioned by the Department for Transport (DfT).

Those are two of the key findings related to cycling contained in an interim report entitled Climate Change and Transport Choices conducted by the consumer research firm TNS-BMRB on behalf of the DfT, and while the report does not necessarily reflect the government department’s views, it may prove influential in formulating policy going forward.

The 209-page report, which you can read here, explores consumer attitudes and behaviour in relation to a range of transport options and environmental issues, and includes a detailed analysis of people’s use of bicycles to get to work, with responses broken down by factors including gender, age, socio-economic group, household income and location.

Researchers found that approximately half of respondents either owned a bicycle or had regular use of one, but only one in four of those people cycled regularly, defined as once a week or more. Moreover, although four in ten bicycle owners lived within five miles of their place of work, only 5% of those who own a bicycle or have access to one use it daily.

People aged between 40 and 59 were most likely to have access to a bike – around two thirds of them – but the research also showed that although higher household income increased the likelihood of owning a bicycle and cycling infrequently (at least once a year), it made little difference to levels of regular cycling (at least once a week) or cycling to work on a regular basis.

We’d imagine that one possible explanation for that is that those with higher household incomes, who are likely to have more space at home in which to store bikes, may for example undertake the odd ride with the family in the summer months.

In terms of getting people to leave the car at home and try commuting by bike instead to a workplace or place of study, the survey found that most respondents with access to a bicyle either hadn’t considered this, or if they had, they’d rejected it.

Of those who did start cycling to work, two in three went back to using their car, and a drop-off in bike usage was also seen once commuting distance went beyond three miles. The average commute was nearly nine miles, at which point only 3% of people with access to a bike were using it to travel to their employment.

While almost all respondents – 92% - said that they had learnt to ride a bike, 10% said that they are unable to do so now because of disability or a long-term health issue, while a further 6% claim that such a condition makes it difficult, but not impossible, to take to two wheels.

People who have never learnt to cycle, but don’t have health issues or a disability that would prevent them from doing so, were more likely to be women, people from the lowest socio-economic groups and in the lowest household income quintile as well as Londoners, which suggest to us that efforts to provide outreach cycling initiatives to these marginalised groups should be stepped up.

Chris Peck, campaigns co-ordinator at national cyclists' organisation CTC, told road.cc that the survey highlighted that more efforts needed to be made to make the roads safer for bike riders.

"That 63% of respondents to this survey find cycling on roads stressful and just 45% saying they are willing to cycle on roads confirms that we still have a long way to go to make Britain's roads civilised enough for the majority of people to shift to cycling as their main way of getting about. Local authorities need to do much more to improve conditions by reducing traffic speeds and volumes and by providing proper cycle facilities on the busiest streets and roads," he commented.

Jason Torrance, Sustrans’ Policy Manager, added: "Many barriers to walking and cycling are about choice but there are cost-effective ways to widen that choice so that car travel is not the only option especially for everyday travel. Providing good information about local walking, cycling, or public transport can open up travel choices.

"In both urban and rural communities, creating safe, accessible connections is vital to make shorter journeys much more doable without a car. For example the new pedestrian bridge in Worcester or the newly opened riverside boardwalk in Southampton, make easy walking and cycling connections to and from the city centres. Breaking down barriers needs investment and joined-up thinking but has wider positive implications for health as well as the environment."

The survey was based on 3,923 face-to-face interviews conducted in respondents’ homes in England between November 2009 and June 2010, making it one of the most in-depth studies of its type yet conducted.

The report’s authors say that the findings will help “inform the development of the Department for Transport segmentation model of public attitudes to climate change and transport choices,” and will also provide evidence for a useful evidence source for local authorities and the voluntary, communities and social enterprises sector seeking to develop sustainable transport initiatives.’

The final report is due to be published during 2011.